Once A Teacher.

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I learn something new every day at work. Recently I learned that I should never underestimate a person’s abilities.

Every other week we go to a local daycare and read to the children. The kids range in age from 1 to 6 years old. My residents absolutely love reading to the children and we always leave with smiles on our faces. One of my residents, Vera*, is a retired teacher. She loves seeing the kids more than any other resident, but she’s also fairly progressed into dementia. She often seems confused about where she is and usually talks to me about how she has a “lesson” coming up that she has to teach.

I hate to admit it, but I have avoided giving her a book to read out loud at the daycare. I was afraid that she wouldn’t know how to begin, and I didn’t want to embarrass her. This time, however, something amazing happened.

Vera requested, for the first time, to read a book to the kids. The teacher handed her one. Suddenly, Vera was back in her niche. “Okay, kids!” she exclaimed. “Listen up now, I’m going to read you this story about apples. Now, how many of you like to eat apples?” Nearly every kid raised his or her hand. “Me, me!” they shouted. “That’s wonderful! You know, apples are really healthy!” she said.

I was speechless as Vera continued with her lesson. Not only did she read out loud, but she engaged each and every child. “Sam says that he wants to go, too,” she said, reading from the book. “Now, who can tell me who they think ‘Sam’ is? Let me give you a hint, he moves like this,” she says, as she strolls across the room. “He’s a human!” the kids shouted. “That’s right! You all are so smart!” she clapped. Vera read the whole book like this.

It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

*names have been changed

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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